After making headlines on November 28th as the first woman to play in a Power 5 conference game, Vanderbilt kicker Sarah Fuller returns to the spotlight as the first woman to score in a Power 5 conference game, kicking a pair of extra points in a 42-17 loss to Tennessee. And, naturally, the sports world cheered in unison for the historic day where a woman did a thing men in the sport do hundreds of times, perhaps thousands of times, weekly across professional, collegiate, high school, and even Pop Warner leagues.
“I’m realizing that I have the capability to have a voice and send out a positive message,” Fuller said. “I’m really trying to think through that right now and getting advice from family and friends that I trust on how to use the platform correctly.”
Since a covid-19 surge in the Vanderbilt special teams unit left the team without a kicker, the team called Fuller up and she became an instant inspiration in the sports world. Mobbed by her teammates after her extra point, they celebrated as if she nailed the game-winning score. She was named SEC Player of the Week after a “squib” kick to open the half against Missouri, a kick that bounced twenty-five yards. She was honored at a Tennesee Titans game. After her first PAT, center judge Chris Garner made sure to give Fuller the game ball. The game ball from her second kick will receive a display in the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.
“I think it’s awesome. Having a daughter this past year, (consider) the opportunity that Sarah Fuller has probably created for other young ladies that maybe want to follow that path one day,” Tennessee head coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “I think it says a whole lot about her and really her fortitude to be brave enough to go do this.”
How far we have drifted from true female empowerment if a wobbly extra point constitutes an achievement. If an accomplishment requires the tag “for a woman” to earn the title of amazing or impressive, the accomplishment probably isn’t worth celebrating. To achieve something historic, it should abide by universal standards of amazing, regardless of gender. Why must we pretend women are somehow behind men by holding something that, when a man does it, it’s an unremarkable certainty, in high acclaim simply because a woman did it?
Let’s compare Sarah Fuller with a truly remarkable woman, Amelia Earhart. Fuller, though an impressive athlete with skill the average person can’t match, kicked a football in a college game (not even NFL) twice. Once in a kickoff, which traveled shorter than the kicks of some middle schoolers, and once for an extra point, the easiest kick and the easiest way to score in football. Routine plays that nobody bats an eye at when men do them.
In both games, Vanderbilt lost by huge margins, meaning Fuller’s contributions couldn’t even propel her team to a win. Heck, the Commodores finished 0-9 this season, rendering her performances meaningless on a football level. But, merely because Fuller is a woman, that transforms the plays into all-time triumphs.
On the other hand, in 1928, Earhart became not the first woman but the second human ever to complete a solo, nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean, soaring over 2,000 miles from Newfoundland to Ireland in under 15 hours in a monoplane. Then, seven years later, she became the first human ever to fly solo from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland, a flight 600 more miles than Charles Lindbergh’s famous transatlantic trip. Ten fliers died before she pulled the flight off. Unabashedly impressive, Earhart reigns as a symbol of female empowerment, not because she accomplished something men do routinely, but because she pushed the boundaries of humanity forward.
The standard of female empowerment and accomplishment has become unjustifiably degraded to the point of borderline insulting to women. We clap and cheer for women doing an action men do on a routine basis in the football world as if women can’t be expected to do more. Secretly, we could never believe in a woman becoming a Hall of Famer in the NFL or even an All-Pro level player so we settle for a gimme extra point in a college game, which inherently undermines equality standards. Why shouldn’t we expect women to be able to match and even outdo men? And if so, shouldn’t we only celebrate achievements that amaze on a basic human level, irrelevant of gender?
Besides, Fuller’s achievement appears like a sheer publicity stunt considering the Commodores had a kicker, Pierson Cooke, nail a 39-yard field goal during the same game against Tennessee. Regardless, if we wish to position women as symbols of inspiration, the standard of “for a woman” shouldn’t apply or else we inadvertently slip into outdated sentiments that reduce women and what they are capable of as inferior to men.